Two Aprils ago, my guest post for this blog held hope for my children. Now we’re in a pandemic, all of us in one house trying to teach and learn still.
I’ve always struggled with superstition. When I was a child, if I saw a cardinal in the underbrush on the way to school, it would be a good day. If I didn’t, then maybe I had but didn’t realize. Or maybe I didn’t say it as a charm under my breath, so a bad day wasn’t coming after all.
My life wasn’t bad, not as bad as other people’s. I told myself that over and over, scorning myself for being sensitive. Addiction, mental illness, accidents, violence, poisons in our environment and diseases that followed–forget how you feel. It doesn’t matter. Be glad it’s not worse and get on living.
No need to suffer heartbreaks if you figured out the game and played to win. Yet success could be lost anytime, either by having too much confidence (pride goeth before a fall) or too little thankfulness (taking it for granted). In other words, if something went wrong, I had only myself to blame.
We didn’t talk about bad things happening to good people, except maybe Job, and even he failed the test. We didn’t confront flaws in the systems. Life was a vale of tears. Only fools expected otherwise. Know your place.
As an adult, as a parent, it’s endless, all the ways I can keep failing. I realize now the adults around me as a child felt that way, too. Even before COVID-19, this was the case.
Everyone wants everything to be back to the way it used to be. Except for me.
My uncle, my mother’s brother, died last Thanksgiving. The Air Force emblem with its bald eagle was part of the ceremony to honor his service. Growing up in southern Illinois, I never saw eagles. But there, after his memorial, I saw one fly over towards the river. Since then, more times than I can count, I’ve seen an eagle flying overhead where I live now, hundreds of miles away.
The last time I saw my uncle, at his daughter’s service, I asked him, although it was more like a statement, how do we survive this, how can we go on.
And he held me and said, because we do.
Superstition: a widely held but unjustified belief in supernatural causation leading to certain consequences of an action or event, or a practice based on such a belief.
Middle English: from Old French, or from Latin superstitio(n- ), from super- ‘over’ + stare ‘to stand’ (perhaps from the notion of ‘standing over’ something in awe).
What does it mean to stand over something? Does the awe come from how things turned out? Or from the surprise that you’re still standing despite what happened? Is it like understanding, meaning you try to make sense of events by looking for what controls them? Or does overstanding mean surviving despite realizing you don’t control everything?
If I can’t protect my children, then what does it matter what I wrote for this blog last time, my father’s room of books, my mother’s lifework teaching, anything I’ve ever written, what I write now?
It’s easy for me to fall back into that kind of fatalism. But when I give myself space to feel, I return to what I sensed despite myself from the beginning: it matters. Just like the memory my uncle shared of riding in a motorboat on the river as a little boy with his little brother. The Mississippi was flooding. His brother had brought a toy he loved, a stuffed bunny. He held it in front of him so its ears flapped back in the wind as they went forward. My uncle was joyful in this memory. But in all the stories he ever told me, he didn’t share this one until a few years before he died. It must not have been long after this ride that he lost his brother in an accident.
On what turned out to be our last day in the physical classroom this semester, my students and I read E.E. Cummings’ “anyone lived in a pretty how town”:
children guessed (but only a few
and down they forgot as up they grew….
stars rain sun moon
(and only the snow can begin to explain
how children are apt to forget to remember
with up so floating many bells down)
Here’s to raising each other to remember.